April 18, 2015
I think I understand the source of evil.
I watch families struggle in dependency court every day, I read the recent research, I observe the patterns.
What I see are broken hearts. I see my 9-year old client wishing and praying her mother would enter a drug treatment program, stop using methamphetamine, be there for her, not miss visits, not leave her in foster care. I see beautiful children abandoned, abused, neglected, hurt, victimized, falsely blamed by the parents who will live in their hearts forever, no matter what.
I see the children suffering and in pain, waiting, believing, hoping. I see people live all sorts of painful family patterns. I see the children suffering, often starting from when they are too young to remember, then reliving the same pattern and pain again and again.
At some point, a different point for each of them, but at some point, the pain becomes too overwhelming. They can’t handle the pain any more. If they can’t die, then they have to survive and go on.
Their mind and body have to adapt to survive. The adaptation is dissociation and a blunting of the normal stress response processes. The adaptation is denial of what happened because acknowledgement is too painful. The adaptation is surviving the repetition of the terrible patterns but in the role of perpetrator who no longer suffers. After that, like a vampire, the perpetrator will need the “blood” of victims to keep his own pain at bay. This way, even though he can’t stop the patterns from repeating, he is not victimized, and he does not suffer.
Cycles of abuse are pervasive, deep, and continuing. They get passed down through the generations, in families and in communities.
Where do we intervene? How do we stop them?
First, we have to try to understand them, as best we can.
They are controlled by numerous complex factors, including patterns established in the brains and bodies of both the victim and the perpetrator. Those patterns are based on both their genetic makeup whose expression is controlled by environmental influences through the generations and on their own experiences.
The brains of both the victim and the perpetrator support the perpetuation of the patterns of abuse. Cycles of abuse are perpetuated in families through many biological mechanisms. The person who grew up witnessing or experiencing abuse or neglect in early childhood when that person’s brain was just developing will develop a brain architecture that perpetuates the continuation of those same patterns.
That brain architecture, the neural connections that control that individual’s experiences and behaviors, conscious and subconscious throughout life. The brain controls the functioning of their stress response system, it controls what they think, it controls what they do, it controls who they partner with romantically, it controls their feelings, their moods, their cognitive abilities, their relationships, their workplace functioning, their economic behaviors, their daily lives, their capacity to plan, their responses to stress, the way they express anger, their parenting behaviors, even their physical health. This is shown by research.
Through parenting behaviors, the victims, who have become perpetrators but retain neural pathways in their brain structure that perpetuate the same traumatic patterns, they lived as children, then pass down the patterns to their own children.
These cycles often continue through generations. They also often continue in groups and societies whose parenting patterns may be similar through social convention and through cultural experience passed down epigenetically. They lead to and perpetuate war, social violence, crime.
I think the source of evil is broken hearts, millions of them.
How do we repair them? We need to work much harder as a society to find answers, as the impact in society is vast. Imagine a world where patterns of abuse and neglect are eliminated. It would be a world of peace. We need so much more funding directed to mental health research, to the appropriate training of mental health professionals, and to making effective high-quality long-term mental health services widely available.